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COOKIES & PRIVACY POLICY

Theatre review: I Stand Corrected

Within days of opening, a play about lesbian love in South Africa has picked up six award nominations and standing ovations. Iman Qureshi finds out why

Mon, 26 Nov 2012 12:41:38 GMT | Updated 2 years today

Zodwa Ndlovu has left her bride-to-be at the altar. But this is no ordinary case of a jilted lover. As Charlotte Browning attempts to entertain the restless wedding guests at the Rainbow Community Church in Cape Town, South Africa until her betrothed arrives, we suspect that Zodwa is in fact lying murdered in a dustbin down a dark ashen alleyway.

As the story unfolds, we learn that it is not an arbitrary mugging with a violent end, but a deliberate case of corrective gang rape and murder. Zodwa, you see is a black lesbian in modern day South Africa, about to marry the British-born Charlotte, who originally flew out to teach cricket. A devastatingly horrific outcome for a wedding, and an equally grim premise for an evening at the theatre, you might agree. Yet, this stunning theatre/dance collaboration between Mojisola Adebayo and Mamela Nyamza is humorous, moving, sexy, uplifting, political, postcolonial, and ultimately life affirming.

As Charlotte tells her story to us on stage, Zodwa's parallel narrative is told largely through dance. Zodwa uses her physicality to convey emotion in the most effective and visceral of ways. However, she also uses her body as a political site, as she explores the performance and construction of white female beauty, or conveys a narrative, as in the case of her relationship with Charlotte.

The performance is astonishingly moving as the lovers attempt to reach each other across the mortal divide - Zodwa in a realm beyond, while Charlotte is still in Cape Town, grieving. As they dance across the stage, not quite touching - the sensuality tangible, the desire gripping, and the tragedy unbearable - I'm aware that this simultaneously exhilarating and heartbreaking scene is one of the most powerful I have ever seen on stage.

The production builds from laughter and worry, lightness and emotion, gradually up to a climax where we finally confront the demon - the grotesque story of what is termed corrective rape - from where the show gets its title: "I Stand Corrected". This is done intelligently, powerfully and theatrically. More importantly, it does not shy away from the racial and cultural politics of the atrocity; Charlotte is unconditionally damning of it, yet in delving into the colonial history of South Africa, unafraid to shoulder a level of culpability as homophobia is to a great extent, a product of colonialism.

At times the political pontificating feels a little preachy and steps out of the realm of theatrical; the play might have done better to just trust the power of a moving dramatic story to deliver the message itself. Yet, the blame for homophobia in Africa so often falls on misconceived cultural stereotypes, it is understandable that Adebayo and Nyamza are determined to drill home the postcolonial perspective of this play.

While the play is lyrically powerful, even more stunning is its physicality - every movement, every bend of the arm, every clench of the stomach, every twitch of face, flick of head, or flash of teeth serves to deliver a deep-felt visceral emotion. And this grows so magnificently, that by the end of the play, I had the swelling urge to reach into my chest, rip out my heart and throw it on stage. After all, there are very few plays that receive an almost unanimous standing ovation on a press night. It goes without saying that I Stand Corrected was my favourite production of the year.

I Stand Corrected plays at London's Ovalhouse until 8 December. For tickets visit: ovalhouse.com

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